Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-Sided, has been the source of a great book review debate recently. Following eye-opening accounts such as Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, her new effort, released last week, takes on the philosophy of positive thinking, from the mantra of bestsellers like The Secret to the practice of giving presents to cancer patients.
Some reviewers have given the book nothing but praise. Nora Ephron, writing for the Daily Beast, said, "I hesitate to say anything so positive as that this book will change the way you see absolutely everything." The San Francisco Chronicle calls the book a "provocative look at the happiness industry." These reviews and others praise Ehrenreich for calling attention to something no one wants to face up to: that positivity won't solve the world's problems.
Other reviews are more critical, some, like Janet Maslin's piece in the New York Times, scathingly so. Says Maslin:
Her argument has the makings of a tight, incisive essay. And each chapter eventually delivers a succinct reiteration of the central point. But this short book is also padded with cheap shots, easy examples, research recycled from her earlier books and caustic reportorial stalking. Ms. Ehrenreich starts out with her ideas firmly in place, then goes out hunting for crass, benighted individuals whose perniciousness helps her accentuate the negative.
Other reviewers have similarly felt that, while the central idea of the book is interesting, Ehrenreich's supporting arguments are lacking and unconvincing. The Denver Post called Bright-Sided "her least persuasive book," pointing out the generalizations that Ehrenreich relies on too heavily.
Who's read it and what do you think? Ehrenreich told Jon Stewart that when people said to think positively when she had breast cancer, it made her angry. When one editor on our staff lost a job, people said, "You'll see. It'll be the best thing that ever happened to you." She was shell shocked by the news and couldn't believe people could be so insensitive. And whether or not it was the best thing remains to be seen.
Some of us like that kind of constant positivity, some of us don't. We'd like to know how you feel. Do you want to hear the platitudes about difficulties being a blessing? Or does that make you want to deck somebody? What's the best way to approach people in tough situations? And if you've read the book, does Ehrenreich do a good job of convincing you that positivity isn't everything?
Filed by: Jessie Kunhardt